DMS Success Story: Overcoming Penguin

DMS Success Story:

Addressing the Impacts of a Google Algorithm Update to Boost Organic Search


Petersons.com, a leading source of information for college-bound students and their parents, is heavily dependent on organic traffic. This portal ranked within the top three results for important, high-traffic keywords in the education space, and organic traffic delivered 80% of site visits. But suddenly, organic traffic began to rapidly decline, dropping 50% in just two months.


A comprehensive review of the the site SEO strategy, including webmaster tools, link strategy and website changes/feature launches, identified issues that had resulted in a linking penalty from Google:

  • Links that were not SEO-friendly were pointing to the site
  • Most links pointing to Petersons.com were from domains owned by Peterson’s 
  • The number of pages indexed by Google had fallen by 75%
  • Rankings for location-based keywords (such as “colleges in Nebraska”), which accounted for 20% of the organic traffic, had fallen

Not enough ethical link building was being performed — especially in comparison to Petersons.com competitors.

DMS Solution

The Digital Media Solutions (DMS) team researched the linking penalty and determined it coincided with the release of Google’s Penguin algorithm, which targeted sites using “unnatural” linking methods. The reduction in traffic was due to the following issues:

  • A tracking feature impeded spidering of the full site
  • A small number of internal links pointed to a set of pages with errors in the XML and HTML sitemaps
  • Lack of user experience/content value on the primary location-based pages

Enhancements were based on providing valuable content and allowing for full spidering of the site:

  • Requested removal of all links that did not meet Google’s standards; disavow files sent to Google for links that were not able to be removed (more than 4,000 sites contacted during this effort)
  • Removed instances of mirrored sites
  • Fixed tracking, XML and HTML issues that impeded spidering
  • Designed templates for location-based pages with unique titles, descriptions, H1 tags and valuable content
  • Implemented new ethical link-building and content marketing campaigns based on target audience personas
  • Created partnerships with top education “authority” and “influencer” websites 


The linking penalty was removed. When the next Google algorithm was released, Petersons.com saw an immediate 30% increase in organic traffic. In the period after, Petersons.com experienced 60% year-over-year growth.

Want to learn more about the impacts of Google algorithm updates for organic search? Contact DMS to get started.


About the Author

Digital Media Solutions

Digital Media Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: DMS) is a leading provider of technology and digital performance marketing solutions leveraging innovative, performance-driven brand and marketplace solutions to connect consumers and advertisers. DMS proprietary technology solutions, significant proprietary media distribution and data-driven processes help large brands steadily acquire more customers. For more information visit https://digitalmediasolutions.com.

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